Sail-makers to boat-builders - the apprenticeships securing the future of traditional industries in Norfolk and Suffolk

Apprentice sailmakers at Jeckells. From left, Mark Mwebe, David Youngs, and Chris Carter. Picture: D

Apprentice sailmakers at Jeckells. From left, Mark Mwebe, David Youngs, and Chris Carter. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Traditional industries are being put on stable footing by apprenticeships which tackle skills shortages and feed younger generations into the workforce.

Apprentice sailmakers at Jeckells. Chris Carter at work attaching parts of a sail together. Picture:

Apprentice sailmakers at Jeckells. Chris Carter at work attaching parts of a sail together. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Policymakers and businesses have put apprenticeships back in favour, with drives to bolster their numbers launched all over the country in recent years.

While they are now found in most corners of the economy, for long-standing industries coping with the move from a manufacturing to services economy, they are an invaluable tool for plugging skills gaps and shaping their own talent.

At sailmakers Jeckells, based in Hoveton, the addition of three apprentices has eased the strain on a team which will soon see three of its most experienced employees retire.

The seventh-generation family firm initially struggled to find apprentices, but are now reaping the benefits of fresh blood and the ability to train their own staff on-site.

Jeckells sailmakers at Wroxham.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Jeckells sailmakers at Wroxham.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

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Chris Jeckells, managing director, said: 'Many people want to go in to working in IT, or as a builder or plumber, but manufacturing has struggled to attract new people.

'Our apprentices are doing jobs way beyond where we thought they would be - the young man who has been given his certificate is using the laser cutting machine and assembling sails.'

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He said the set-up had seen older members of staff oversee their progress and pass on tips picked up over the years.

'They are working alongside the people who are coming up to retire and they have been helping them, watching what they're up to,' he said. 'It's been great to see.'

Since it launched in March 2013, EDGE Careers has placed hundreds of young people into apprenticeships in the food and farming industries.

A collaborative venture between Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram Group, it has 200 teenagers and young adults on its books, with more than 80pc of its work taking place in the east of England.

Richard Self, project manager, said its set-up was a way of encouraging young people into the industries and ensuring they were equipped for the ever-developing role.

'It was set up by a group of farmers who say one of the biggest challenges of seeing new workers is getting young people into the industry,' he said.

'But it's also about addressing the skills the industry needs. If you take a modern tractor, it has more computer screens than levers.

'It's about a combination of traditional farmer values and keeping up with the technology - through Edge we can point the right people in the direction of the right jobs.'

The niche skills of boat building have long benefitted from apprenticeships.

At Oyster Yachts, in Hoveton, 10pc of their 140-strong team are apprentices, while the business has used the schemes for two decades.

In charge of training is Kevin Webster, one of the managers, who said apprenticeships were 'vital'.

'We do have to rely on training in the industry and we do need to encourage younger people in,' he said. 'Other trades don't move across to us as they do in other fields because what we do is quite niche.

'Many of our former apprentices are now team leaders, while some of our builders go to other local yards and others come to us. It benefits the local industry as a whole.'

The latest figures from the New Anglia LEP show there were 13,860 apprenticeship starts in Norfolk (7,300) and Suffolk (6,560) in 2015/16 - a rise of 1,840 on the previous year.

The body hopes to create an extra 5,000 apprenticeships in the region by 2020.

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